Washington, October 12: The United States on Thursday announced that it is to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and accused the body of “anti-Israel bias”. The withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018. The US will remain a full member of the Paris-based UNESCO until then.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency. “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti- Israel bias at UNESCO,” Nauert said.

UNESCO’s Director General Irina Bokova said that she deeply regret the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the organisation. “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack. This is why I regret the withdrawal of the United States. This is a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss to the United Nations family,” the official statement read.

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the US cut off its budget contribution to the agency in protest at its acceptance of Palestine as a member-state. President Donald Trump has criticised what he called a disproportionate contribution by the US to UN institutions.

The US funds 22 per cent of the UN’s regular budget. The US withdrawal is also motivated by a desire to save money, the Foreign Policy magazine reported.

This is not the first time the US has withdrawn from the agency.

The Ronald Reagan administration quit the organisation in the 1984, and the US rejoined it in 2002 under the George W Bush administration, the magazine said.

Paris-based UNESCO, which began work in 1946, is known for designating World Heritage sites.

With inputs from Agencies